Dealing with Feelings of Depression in Drug Rehab

By John Lee

The first days and weeks of recovery can be tough. You have to deal with drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms and a new way of thinking. It’s a time of significant change, and change is rarely easy.

A lot of us think we can break free from addiction on our own, and most of us try at least once or twice - and fail - before realizing we need help to quit drinking or using drugs for good. 

One of the many reasons we need addiction treatment is that during the initial period of sobriety, we aren’t at our best. We aren’t ready or able to stay focused and committed to the battle that lies ahead. Depressive symptoms, for example, are very common during early recovery, and it’s hard to work up the resolve to fight for your sobriety when you can barely drag yourself out of bed.

Fortunately, depressive symptoms are generally transitory, especially when you get appropriate counseling and encouragement along the way.

Through participation in an addiction treatment program, you can access services that will help you manage and overcome depressive symptoms as they arise, so they don’t cause you to relapse.

Because depressive symptoms in early recovery are so common, it is important that you seek addiction treatment at a facility that employs licensed and trained mental health professionals that can help get you through the tough first weeks.

The Difference Between Sadness, Depressive Symptoms and Clinical Depression

Depressive symptoms include sadness, guilt, hopelessness, low self-esteem and confusion, as well as physical symptoms such as tiredness, insomnia, aches and pains.

While feelings of sadness or guilt are normal in some situations, a person with depressive symptoms will feel this low mood without legitimate cause. People who have depressive symptoms may or may not meet the criteria for a diagnosis of clinical depression. It depends on the number of symptoms experienced and how severe they are.

Why Depressive Symptoms Are Common in Early Recovery

There are a number of reasons why people feel symptoms of depression during the initial period of abstinence, such as:

  • People abusing drugs or alcohol often face significant life challenges that stem from their behaviors while using. They may have lost a job, have legal problems or face family separation. These challenges can create a lot of stress, and stress can increase the likelihood of depressive symptoms.
  • The use of drugs or alcohol can sometimes obscure an underlying depression. With the sudden cessation of drug or alcohol use, these symptoms can emerge.
  • Withdrawal from substances like alcohol, opiates, cocaine and methamphetamine can cause enduring depressive symptoms

How Depressive Symptoms Affect Your Recovery

Symptoms of depression during initial recovery are not only unpleasant, they also diminish your ability to participate effectively in an addiction treatment program and increase the odds of relapse.

People with depressive symptoms:

  • May feel hopeless, like treatment cannot work
  • May have trouble concentrating during therapy sessions
  • May miss (skip) therapy sessions
  • May have trouble interacting socially, such as in group therapy sessions
  • May have little motivation to participate actively in recovery activities

Interventions Used to Treat Depressive Symptoms

Since substance abuse treatment and depression treatment work best when they are integrated, drug rehab counselors can address both problems simultaneously.

Some typical interventions offered in a drug rehab for those with depressive symptoms include:

  • Education about the nature of depression
  • Behavioral interventions that help people with depressive symptoms change behaviors that perpetuate negative moods
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a type of counseling that helps people take control over negative and maladaptive thought patterns
  • Motivational interviewing, which helps people focus and sustain the effort needed to overcome addiction and depressive symptoms

The Importance of Qualified Mental Health Professionals

Because depressive symptoms are a common experience among the newly sober, you should ensure that you get care at a facility that employs trained and licensed mental health professionals. These professionals can:

  • Spot depressive symptoms
  • Intervene with counseling and other therapies
  • Provide referrals for a formal diagnosis and medication, if warranted

Addiction is a disease that commonly co-occurs with mental health issues. For this reason, people require integrated dual diagnosis treatment for any chance of success. When selecting a drug rehab program, be sure to select a licensed and accredited facility that is able to deliver the care you’ll need to get, and stay, better.